Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Rocket Science and Urine


This week I took a journey to work with the folks at NASA in Huntsville Alabama. I was there a few years ago and really thought it was a cool place to visit, and so I was kind of looking forward to the trip. Since my flights left at 630AM, this meant that I had to get up at 2AM in order to get ready and get to the airport at least an hour and a half before my flight left. I seriously considered just flying as Matthew so that I could get one more hour of sleep, but the more I thought about it, the more I figured that it really didn’t make that much difference. By the time you are getting up at either two or three in the morning, your pretty well gonna be miserable in any case, and one more hour of sleep just isn’t gonna make you or break you. Of course I hadn’t counted on my sick one year old son and my one year old grand daughter both crying and yelling all night long and keeping everyone wide awake. When my alarm went off, it took an actual act of willpower to keep from throwing it across the room . . .

I wore a new dress that I just bought last week on clearance at Macy’s and I just love the thing. I love its style and all of the colors are colors that I think look great on me. Considering that it was a $90 dress on sale for only $18, I think it’s nothing short of awesome!

Huntsville AL 2011 02 002

As I approached the Delta kiosks to get my ticket, the male customer service rep grinned at me as always, and we had our obligatory comments about flying Delta versus the competition.
“Flying Delta again so soon huh?” he said with a laugh.
“You betcha! I always fly Delta of I can” I replied as I made my way to the counter to check my bags. My favorite CSR Mona, waved me forward.
“Good morning Mona! How are you doing?” I asked her as I lifted my bags on to the scale.
“I’m well Matthew, how are you?”
“Well, so far I’m doing OK, but my children are all sick so it’s just a question of time before I come down with it!” I laughed.
“Awe, that’s too bad.” she said as she handed me back my tickets and ID. “You know I love your coat! I need to get a new one myself.”
“Thanks, it is kind of cute isn’t it?! I looked for a couple weeks before settling on this one. You should try JC Penny’s – they have cute and affordable coats there.”
“Maybe. The problem is that I live out of town and so have to buy online.”
“That’s no problem – I’ve spent a significant portion of my paycheck with JC Penny’s online.” I told her and we both laughed.

The lady that sat next to me on the flight out of Austin took one look at my shoes and then spoke to me.
Cute shoes!”
“Thank you! I have kind of a thing for cute Mary Janes!” I replied with a smile.
“That’s OK, I have kind of a thing for shoes period!” she replied with a grin and we both laughed.
Yeah, about those shoes? They have four inch stiletto heels, look awesome, and are as adorable as they come, but they are not comfortable. I’ve worn them before and don’t recall them feeling terribly uncomfortable, but these things were killing me today, and I still had another eight hours of traveling to do in them. When people ask me for advice on how to travel, I always make it a point to advise them to be sure that the shoes that they are going to wear are tolerable and comfortable. I sure wish I had followed my own advice, because by the time I got to my hotel, my toes were hurting so bad I was having trouble walking without a limp.

The following morning I made my way to the Marshall Space Flight Center on the Redstone Arsenal to work with one of the NASA contractors there. Soon after checking in at the gate, I found myself in a huge aircraft hanger full of massive cylinders laying on their sides and supported by steel frames. These cylinders were actual modules that had been intended to be launched into orbit and used as a part of the International Space Station. They were being used here for testing, R & D, and the like. They are using our FTIR (Infrared Mass Spectrometer) to monitor the effectiveness of their air filtering system under assorted loads and conditions.


When I was escorted into the area, I was quite frankly filled with awe and envy. After all, how very neat it must be to work here and be intimately involved with mankind’s efforts to leave our planet and make our way into space. I was thinking these weighty and inspiring thoughts as my escort brought me into a lab where the man who owned our instrument was working. They immediately brought my mind crashing back down to Earth though when they started speaking to each other.
“You know, I’m sorry but I just didn’t have to pee bad enough to fill the jug up this morning. Maybe we should have ‘Jill’ top it off for us? With her being pregnant, that might give us some interesting results!” my escort quipped to the man in the lab who was to be my contact for this service call. It was then that I noticed that he was wearing gloves and carrying a box full of quart containers of yellow liquid – presumably urine. He sat the box down and then raised his gloved hands in the air.
“Hello and thanks for coming! I would shake your hand, but . . . “ he grinned as he wiggled his gloved fingers to show that shaking hands might not be in my best interests at the moment.
“Oh no, no, no - that’s quite all right!” I laughed.
“Either they have dramatically increased the sample size needed for drug testing since I last had to do it, or you guys are doing something else with all of that?” I pointed to the box of large containers full of urine.
“We all volunteered to provide samples and are testing the Space Stations Filtration and Recycling system with it.” He said with a grin.
“Now that’s efficient use of our tax dollars!” I replied with a laugh. “So now I know - rocket science isn’t always glamorous . . . “




Friday, February 4, 2011

Shocking, just shocking . . .

Ya know, the more I think about it, the more irritated I get over the Austin airports new policy of frisking anyone wearing a long skirt. I like my long pretty skirts and now if I wear one, I am going to be inconvenienced, some female TSA agent is going to be inconvenienced, and more than likely she is going to start assuming that I am some sort of pervert that wants to be frisked. So now every time I fly, I have to decide between what I want to wear, and the inconvenience that it is going to cause everyone. Grrrrr . . . .

Well, I wanted to wear a long black skirt, but instead chose a different outfit specifically to avoid the hassle at the airport. I thought that it was a reasonably cute outfit but later in the day I realize that it had a flaw. The white built in slip/lining of the skirt was just a touch too long and so I spent the entire day with the slip peeking out.

Lexington Kentucky 2011 02 003

I had the usual conversation with the male Delta airlines customer service rep while I used the kiosk to get my tickets. Pretty much every time I fly Delta we have the identical conversation where the he tells me that if I stopped flying the other airlines and stuck with Delta, I would be a diamond member with all of the perks that come with it, and I tell him that if I had my way, that’s exactly what I’d do.
Tickets dispensed from the machine and in hand, I moved forward to the counter to drop my bags, and after a very brief pause, someone behind the counter waved me forward. I was on the way to that position when my favorite rep, Mona, looked up and called me over to her position instead.
“Hey Matt, how have you been?” she asked.
“I’ve been fine thank you, how have you been? Have a good weekend?” I asked as I hefted my bag and large tool box up onto her scales.
“My weekend was fine, but way too short. Sure wish we could get a ‘do over’ on it!” she said with a grin as she attached tags to my bags.
“I see you have a new toolbox.” She mentioned as she attached tags to it. “It’s a lot bigger isn’t it?”
“Yeah, I had to get a new one – the old one wore out. The handle was torn off and one of the wheels just disintegrated.” I replied with a laugh. “This one is a lot bigger, but I really hadn’t planned it that way. When I was ordering it online, it didn’t seem like an inch or so longer and taller would be such a big difference, but boy was I wrong!”
“OK, I’ve attached your bag claims to the back of your tickets and your all set. I hope you have a coat in one of those bags, because it’s gonna be cold there?!”
“Oh yeah, I’m all set!” I replied while I lifted and showed her my new blue coat from where I had set it and my backpack on the floor.

Since I was wearing a short skirt, I sailed right through the security check point with no hassle what-so-ever, and in no more than five minutes I was sitting on the other side of the check point putting my shoes, belt, and ear rings back on. I grabbed my backpack and slung it over a shoulder and headed out toward my gate, but I didn’t get more than a dozen steps down the walkway when a guy almost bowled me over and then looked back at me as he walked past.
“Umm hmm, looking good!” he said with a wink. I was flabbergasted as he walked away and I couldn’t decide if it had been a genuine compliment or if he was poking fun at me. Either way, it gave me a smile as I continued toward my gate.

I had an aisle seat on the airplane, and shortly after I stowed my backpack under the seat in front of me, an absolutely stunning woman with long dark hair stopped in the aisle and pointed at the window seat next to me.
“I’m in the seat next to you.” She said with a brilliant smile that highlighted her awesome eyes and perfect white teeth. I smiled back at her and got out of my seat to allow her to get to hers. I spent most of the flight playing with my new IPOD Touch, and she spent most of the flight reviewing a large number of documents, so we didn’t speak much. I suppose that it was probably just as well as pretty women tend to make me nervous to the point of saying stupid things. When the plane landed and people were getting off of it, she said something that has kind of stuck with me though.
“I hope you have a great day and a nice trip.” She said with a kind of compassionate tone of voice and look in her eyes. I wished her the same, but all through the day I kept reviewing the exchange in my mind, trying to figure out what was odd or off about it, until several hours later I finally had it – she had spoken to me with pity in her voice and in her eyes. She had spoken to me the same way that you might speak to a cancer victim or someone that has been grievously wounded. You know, as if there was a unspoken component to her words something along the lines of “I’m so sorry that you’re hurt/dying but I hope that your day is as good as it can be given your condition.” Funny how some things stick with you, but three days later this still bothers me. I’m reasonably happy and pleased with my life and wonder why she thought I was deserving of, or in need of, compassion?

The next day was a fairly long work day and by the time I was free, it was too late to bother getting cleaned up and going out. On the way back to my hotel, I hit up a Goodwill where I was happy to find a dress that I liked and going for very little. I bought that, and then stopped at a Walmart for odds and ends. While I was there I had to step in to the Mens room for a moment, and on my way back out of it I came face to face with a shopping cart being pushed into the bathroom by a woman. I looked at her in surprise, with my first thought being “you’re not supposed to take merchandise into the bathroom”, followed by the thought “she’s going into the wrong bathroom”, and then finally followed with the jolting thought “Oh shit, please tell me that I didn’t just use the wrong bathroom!” A side effect of spending so much time appearing as a woman these days is that I actually have to stop and think to myself “Ok, which bathroom is appropriate?” and I have once or twice caught myself about to enter the wrong one.
“Well,” I said with a laugh while looking at her surprised eyes above her shopping cart. “One of us is in the wrong bathroom and I’m hoping like hell it’s you!”
“I don’t think so!” she said with an indignant tone. Clearly she wasn’t positive though, because she did back her cart back out of the restroom entrance. With a feeling of relief, I pointed to the “MENS” sign above the door and grinned like an idiot while she turned several shades of red and apologized.
The following morning I was to catch a flight from Kentucky to Minneapolis and I had originally intended to fly pretty. The thing is, they were having record breaking storms all over the east coast, and while really bad weather wasn’t expected in Kentucky, I know from experience that you also need to consider where your aircraft is supposed to come from that morning. Bad weather at any major airport in the country can cause serious problems for you no matter where you’re flying from, and they were expecting record breaking storms at a LOT of major airports and hubs, and so I chose to fly as Matthew. I figured that the day was probably going to be stressful enough without adding being cross dressed to the list of complications. So there I sat in boy mode at Denny’s that morning, pounding down a T-bone steak and egg breakfast, when in walked an elderly man and his wife. As the hostess escorted them to a table near mine, I couldn’t help but notice that he was wearing a hat that proudly proclaimed that he was a World War II veteran. He and I traded looks as he and his wife were taking their seats and then he spoke to me.
“Good morning. You look awful familiar but I can’t quite place your face.” He said to me.
“Good morning. I seriously doubt that we have met sir – I live in Austin Texas. I was just kind of admiring that fine hat you have there.” I replied while pointing at his veterans cap. He just smiled and gave me a small wave of his hand in acknowledgement of my statement, and then turned his attention to his menu and his wife. As I ate my breakfast, I sat there thinking about how few people probably stopped to consider that we still had WWII Veterans among us. Most Americans will go well out of their way to give a young soldier their thanks for serving, but how many stop to consider the WWII, Korean, and Vietnam veterans these days? These folks are getting older and probably are no longer wearing uniforms, and so no one even knows that these are men and women that have served our country. With that thought in mind, I called my waiter over to me and handed him back the bill that he had already left with me.
“Listen, do me a favor. You see that couple sitting a couple of tables up from me?”
“Sure. . . “ he replied, looking concerned and puzzled.
“Yeah, he’s a WWII vet. I don’t want you to say anything to them because I don’t want to make them uncomfortable, but go ahead and put their breakfast on my bill OK?”
The waiter got a real thoughtful look on his face and nodded.
“That’s nice, that’s real nice. Give me a minute and I’ll get it changed.”
“Thank you.”
You know what really makes me feel bad about the whole thing? They were a real cheap date and their breakfast combined was only a little over $5. I find myself hoping that this was all they were eating because they don’t have a great appetite, and that it wasn’t because that was all they could afford. . .


A short time later I was sitting in the gate area waiting for my flight, when a young woman with long bright red hair, thick eyebrows, and a large pink bag sat down across from me. She wasn’t terribly pretty to look at and yet there was something about her that drew my attention and it took me a moment to figure out what it was – she was scared. Her eyes were darting about, constantly looking at her ticket and her surroundings, and her leg was literally shaking. About then, they made an announcement that if you were flying standby, they didn’t have any more seats available, and the young ladies look went from scared to terrified.
“Excuse me, did you understand what he said?” she asked me.
I was honestly taken aback as she started to speak, because she had the heaviest country accent that I have ever heard in my life. I met folks from all over the country during my time in the Army, but I had never heard a southern accent that heavy anywhere outside of the television or a movie. Think “Coal Miners Daughter”, and you will have some idea what this nervous young lady sounded like.
“Sure. They were talking about people that are trying to fly standby.” I told her, but got kind of a blank look in return. “Do you have a ticket with an assigned seat on it?”
She looked at her ticket for a moment and then looked back up at me.
“Yes, seat 19A”
“Then you don’t need to worry about it miss, your just fine and what he said didn’t apply to you. You know, that is one hell of a bag you have there. I’ll bet you don’t have any trouble at all picking that one out of a pile do ya’?” I asked her with a smile as I pointed at the big bright pink plaid bag she was desperately clinging to in her lap. She looked startled for a second and then gave me a half hearted smile.
“Nope!” She replied. She and I smiled at each other for a moment and then she continued talking. “This is my first time flying on an airplane. I’ve been on a helicopter, but never on an airplane.”
 “No kidding? You know I spent over a decade active duty army and never got to ride in a helicopter?!” I told her, trying to make it clear that I envied her the experience.
“That’s why I got to ride on one – my husband’s in the Army. We just got him home from Iraq. It took a lot of doing and a lot of paperwork but he’s home now with the babies.” After a moment, she seemed to almost get embarrassed.
“He served four tours over there so I think he done his part!” she added, I guess to make sure that I didn’t think her husband was getting away with anything or shirking his duty just because she had managed to convince the army to send him home early.
“It sounds like he’s done more than his fair share.” I assured her. “So you have children - how many do you have?”
“We have two babies.” She replied proudly.
“I can’t believe you have children at all - to me, you look like you’re just a baby yourself!” I told her with a grin, trying to make it clear that this was a compliment and not an insult.
“Listen, if you need any help at all, don’t hesitate to ask me because I’d be happy to help, especially the wife of a soldier.”
“Thank you.” She told me, now looking just a little calmer.
Well it turned out that I may as well have flown pretty, because the flights all went with out a hitch, and I soon found myself freezing to death in Minneapolis where it was 5 degrees Fahrenheit, and negative fifteen with the wind chill factor. Brrrrr. . . .

The next day I was pleasantly surprised to realize that my customer was literally right across the four lane highway from the Holiday Inn I was staying at. I could have just grabbed my tool box and walked the two or three hundred yards, but my tool box is far too big and heavy and it was far too damned cold. By 1PM I had the service call completed and so I headed back across the road to get cleaned up and go take a walk through the Mall of America. I had planned to wear a long and light green peasant skirt and sweater, and so I was trying some new dark green eye shadow that my daughter-in-law had given me. I don’t often take chances with my makeup and usually stick with colors I know how to use well, but she has convinced me that I should mix it up a little. When I was done, I thought it looked OK, but maybe a bit too dark for my preference. I also thought that it was not as complimentary to my intended outfit as I had hoped. Not to worry though, because as I was pulling my outfit out of my bag, I stumbled across the dress I had just bought a few days ago, and it’s colors did work with the eye shadow well. There was no question that the dress was not the current fashion, but I figured I’d give it a whirl anyway. The thing with wearing “retro” outfits is that you take a bit of a risk. You may either be considered a brave trendsetter and cool for wearing a “Retro” outfit or you can be considered hopelessly out of date. The challenge is in knowing which is which - are you going to be cool or a dud? In my opinion I missed the mark with this dress though. The thing is, I bought the damn thing, so I was darn well gonna wear it at least once!

Minneapolis 2011 02 008

Once I had my act together, I grabbed my camera to take my usual round of “Gee, didn’t I look purty before I left” pictures, but I was in for a surprise. Apparently my camera has taken one too many hits and has decided that it’s had enough of my abuse. When I turned it on, the lens only extended half way, and then the camera shut itself down after making a mournful “bong, bong, bong” sound. I shook it and could hear something loose bouncing around inside it and figured that’s probably not a good sign. I had nothing to lose, so I went ahead and messed with it for a few minutes and finally got it to extend the lens without shutting down, but the lens is clearly out of alignment and the thing wont focus, so these pics are nice and blurry. Just as well as it hides the damned wrinkles on my face . . .

Wrapped up in my pretty blue coat, I headed down stairs to the parking lot, and made my way across the packed snow and ice without getting myself killed or injured. As I took my seat in the car, I realized that the coat was having an interesting affect my retro dress – the combination was apparently working very well as a static generator. The dress and its thin built in slip were clinging to my backside and legs as if they were glued into place. I sat in the car and tried tugging it away from my legs, but it just snapped back into place as if there were magnets attached, so I gave up and left it alone. I reached into my coat pocket for the car keys and got zapped by static electricity as I put the key in the ignition. ‘Well this is going to be interesting!’ I thought to myself as I started making my way across the snow packed parking lot to the highway.


When I got to the Mall of America, I started off at one of my favorite stores – Macy’s. I can’t afford to shop at Macy’s much, at least not for clothes, but I do often find good deals on awesome shoes there. As soon as I got indoors, I stopped to remove my coat and drape it over my left arm, and then I took a whopping two or three steps before I realized I had a bit of a problem – the entire left side of my dress had jumped out to cling to the coat hanging from my arm. When I say entire, I mean entire. It wasn’t just a little bit of the skirt clinging to the coat, it was the entire skirt of the dress.
“Oh goody” I mumbled to myself as I pried the two apart and then held my coat a bit further out. As soon as I got the dress and coat separated, I felt the inside layer of my dress firmly attach its entire length against my legs. I sort of figure this must be what it would feel like to be vacuum packed. The good news was that when I looked in the mirror, I found it was only the inside layer of the dress clinging obscenely to my legs, and the outside of the dress was still falling fairly nicely and looking entirely acceptable so off I went . . .

I took a walk through the shoe section and found nothing that I couldn’t live without there. I found plenty that I would like to have, but nothing I just had to have, and so I headed for the mall proper. On the way out of Macy’s though, I saw a rack with a large “Clearance! 80% off!” sign above it, and figured it was worth a look. To my pleasant surprise, I found a tan, red, and black dress that I thought was awesome, and it was on sale for only $18! I thought it was a killer dress and would have been willing to pay full price for it, so there was very little doubt I was gonna snatch it up if they were gonna just give it away. They had it in size 12 and 14, so I grabbed both and started looking for a dressing room. I must have had that lost look on my face because a sales associate quickly approached me.
“Are you looking for a dressing room?” she asked.
“Exactly! How did you ever guess?!” I replied with a laugh as she led me to one. With snapping and popping sounds of static electricity, I pulled the retro dress off and tried on the size 12 dress. I thought it was just a bit tighter than I liked and so I set it aside and tried the size 14 next. I thought it looked terrific and I seriously considered just wearing it out of the store instead of the static nightmare I had worn in. I thought there was a fair chance that the sales associate would be uncomfortable selling me a dress that I was wearing though, and also thought that maybe that would be just a bit lacking in class, and so I reluctantly took the awesome dress off and put the static filled bit of fluff back on.
“Will this be on your Macy’s card?” The sales associate asked me.
“No thank you – I already have plenty of ways to go into debt.” I told her with a smile and we both laughed.
“What a cute dress!” she exclaimed as she held it up to neatly fold it and put it in the bag.
“Isn’t it though?! And y’all are practically giving it away!”
“Your right, it’s only $18. What a deal.” She replied.
“I’m pretty sure that’s the best deal I’ve ever found at Macy’s, and I’ll tell you what, that dress sure beats the hell outta this little bit of static cling.” I told her as I tugged my dress away from my leg just to watch it snap back into place again. She took a good look at my dress as she handed me the bag.
“I see what you mean. That dress is a little . . . “ and then she hesitated. “Well, nothing against the dress mind you . . . “ and she hesitated again.
“Uh oh . . . “ I laughed, encouraging her to finish her comment.
“Well, it’s a bit retro isn’t it?” she asked, maybe a little worried that she might offend her customer, but I just laughed to ease her mind.
“It guess it is as I just got it at a thrift store a few days ago.”
“Oh, I do a LOT of shopping at thrift stores.” She confided in me. “Well you have a great day!”

Wearing a dress I was now convinced had been a horrible mistake, I headed out to explore the Mall of America. This place is huge, and had for many years been the largest mall on the continent, and I think even in the world, though it lost the bragging rights to that title a while back. Indoors, it has a full sized amusement park complete with Ferris Wheels and roller coasters, so the place is filled with the sounds of machines and the laughter and screams of children. I tried to take a few pics and videos with my blackberry but I’m afraid it was too dark for decent photography. Finding nothing else that I both wanted and could afford, I decided to go see a movie – “The Kings Speech”. I have to tell you that I loved that movie and highly recommend it. It was full of courage and humor, and was one of the most enjoyable movies I’ve seen in quite a while.

You will be happy to know that while it did give me a few more startling zaps, the dress did not manage to electrocute me . . .